Controlling our behavior is something we can only do for a limited time. E.g., when studying
multiple hours in preparation for an exam, studying typically becomes increasingly more difficult.
At first sight, it seems like controlling our behavior relies on a finite resource that becomes
exhausted with use – an idea that dominated cognitive psychology for the past two decades.
However, more recent studies have indicated that, e.g., incentives can restore our ability to
control behavior. These, and other, studies call for more systematic research into the motivational
and affective correlates of cognitive control over time.
Some studies already started to indicate that controlling our behavior is essentially emotional. For
example, consider the Stroop task, which is often used to study controlled behavior. Here, you
have to name the ink color (e.g., green) of color words (e.g., “blue”), while ignoring the meaning of
the word. Our impulse is to process the meaning of a word, but whenever our impulses are
inconsistent with our goal (e.g., “blue” in green ink), we experience ‘conflict’. These studies found
that the detection of such conflict is experienced as aversive. While this aversive experience could
be useful on a short term, after a while it might make us tired, unwilling, and develop a preference
for other activities. Therefore, I will investigate how the emotional experience of conflict actually
changes over time when we have to control behavior for extended times.